My Minnesota

Funny guy Bill Corbett eschews bright lights for the burbs

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 23, 2011 - 2:19 PM

The "Mystery Science Theater 3000" star works away on new projects in a southern burb, where he sometimes goes to the public library to write. We won’t say which one, so he can get some work done.

Bill Corbett

Photo: M. Kienitz, M. Kienitz

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Bill Corbett is not one of those famous local guys whose mug beams with all available teeth from the cover of People. You might not recognize Bill unless he was painted gold and had bisected bowling pins for a mouth: He was Crow T. Robot in the latter seasons of the brilliant TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” as well as Brain Guy — and he co-wrote the show, too.

He’s currently working on a play called “Hate Mail,” which received a New York reading this weekend by John Slattery (“Mad Men”) and Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and  the City”). He also writes and performs with Rifftrax.com, an online version of “MST3K.” Bill lives here in a southern burb, where he sometimes goes to the public library to write. We won’t say which one, so he can get some work done.

You’re a funny guy! Be funny now. No, that’s unfair. How about you tell us whether Minnesotans are funny.

“I think there is Minnesota sense of humor, sort of dry and good natured, not particularly mean-spirited as a rule. But I bring the mean to Minnesota.”

So you’re not from here?

“I’m from New York — born and raised in Brooklyn, went to college out East, went to grad school out East. I came here in 1990 for writing fellowship, ended up at the Guthrie. I knew little to nothing about Minnesota except this was the mythical land of Mary Tyler Moore. And the Twins. Who are not mythical, of course.”

Was fitting in easy? Minnesotans can be nice but clannish.

“It helped that I was thrown into an institution — wait, that didn’t sound right. At the Guthrie I was around people who weren’t from here either, and that helped — but I found this a friendly place. Then you realize you’ve lived here a couple of decades, and you find yourself saying this is home.”

But you left for Los Angeles! We don’t like it when people get all famous and leave.

“When I sold my screenplay [Bill wrote 'Meet Dave,’ a 2008 Eddie Murphy movie], my wife and I thought of staying there, but decided no. We could never own a house there. We didn’t want to raise our kids there. I felt like there was a constant buzz and chatter of people trying to get things done. There’s a quote from a 19th-century writer about a big city: a great place to sell your apples, not grow them. It’s easier to work and write here. I always thought there was a reason why Mediterranean countries produced great painters, but not writers. Nordic countries, great writers, not so good painters.”

What would you change? No, wait, let me guess...

“I’d take off a month off in winter. (Laughs.) It’s such a cliché, I know. But I actually kind of like the extreme cold. It’s clear and it’s crisp on an extreme day in winter.”

If your kids grew up in LA, they might be status-addled Hollywood brats hanging out at the Viper Lounge; now they’re here, in the land of Well-Grounded Values. What do you think they’ll take away?

“Goodwill, good people, being a good neighbor and being outside in the elements! All the best parts of Minnesota. Would it be OK if they stayed here all their lives? Absolutely. (Leans forward, adopts an old man voice.) I want them to be happy.”

JAMES LILEKS
 

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